HONOLULU (KHON2) — Thanksgiving week for 2021 has arrived, and visitors have started their holiday early.
According to state data, 36,079 people entered the state on Saturday, Nov. 20; the highest number of travelers since July 2021.
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The vast majority of 32,422 were visitors; 3,657 were residents coming home. The majority of travelers arrived in Honolulu (16,908), followed by Kahului (9,686), Kona (5,227) and Lihue (3,959).
Of the roughly 36,000 arrivals, 27,601 had a COVID-19 vaccine exemption and 6,489 took a negative COVID-test before entering the state.
The arrivals on Nov. 20 nearly matched pre-pandemic numbers, and roughly 60,000 more travelers are expected to enter the state through Monday, Nov. 22.
“We had been tracking about 15 to 20% under our kind of regular baseline, but now it’s catching up,” explained Lt. Gov. Josh Green.
About 30,000 people entered the state on Sunday, Nov. 21, and travelers said their flights were full.
“Booked flight, completely packed in like sardines,” said Richard Floyd, a Southwest Airlines passenger from Sacramento.
“The plane was very full; there were seats, but it was very full,” stated Pam Stalley, a Hawaiian Airlines passenger from Sacramento.
Stalley also said it was her first time on an airplane in years, and she decided to join her daughter on Oahu at the last minute.
“I had to learn fast, but Safe Travels Hawaii was very clear on how to do things, and I got my wristband, my QR code and it was quick,” Stalley explained about the Safe Travels Hawaii process.
Stalley is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and said she chose Hawaii because she felt comfortable being in a place with low case counts and a high vaccination rate.
“I have a young grand-daughter who is two and a half who can’t get vaccinated, and I’m very concerned about her and we’re going to be seeing each other and I’ll be hugging her, but I feel like because of what Hawaii has put in place, I’m going to be OK,” Stalley said.
The majority of domestic airlines have pre-Safe Travels screenings for travelers to show proof of COVID vaccination or a 72-hour negative COVID pre-test and flight information at the departure city to receive a wristband, avoiding long lines upon arrival.
During the summer of 2021, there were long lines at airports across the state when tourism picked up, but for the most part, lines have averaged about one hour for those who did not get a wristband at their departure city.
Floyd said his family ran into that problem with Southwest Airlines, which typically offers pre-screening for travelers to Hawaii.
“Southwest, unfortunately, wasn’t doing the pre-scanning at the departure airport, which when we got here, thankfully, it wasn’t much of a line but I’ve heard horror stories about long lines,” Floyd added. “They were understaffed, which I thought was weird on the busiest week of the year.”
Get more coronavirus news: COVID vaccines, boosters and Safe Travels information
Lt. Gov. Green said fully vaccinated passengers who are leaving the state for the first time since the pandemic should feel safe flying.
“I really recommend people reconnect with their family. I went and saw my mom a couple of weeks ago and I saw my brother, it’s important that we begin to move toward normal and that means seeing loved ones in the holidays,” Green said.